Afghanistan’s ancient precious gem mines are a curse for the country as terror groups siphon profits to fund their wars and outrages.
The Taliban and ISIS gained millions of dollars as armed groups extract close to $20 million a year from rich lapis lazuli mines in the Badakhshan region of the country.
These sought after gems are then sold to collectors in the West and China.
Celebrities such as the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton and Hollywood actress Jennifer Lawrence have recently been photographed sporting lapis lazuli jewellery.
The stones are shaped into jewellery and ornaments dating back for 6,500 years back to the age of the Egyptian pharaohs. Gems from Afghanistan have been found in the tombs of the pharaohs and on the ornate face mask of Tutankhamun.
$1 trillion of untapped resources
Now, justice campaigners Global Witness want the gems classified as a conflict resource in much the same way as Africa’s blood diamonds.
The Afghan government earns less than $20 million a year from mining across the entire country, while the nation is said to sit on untapped oil, gas and mineral reserves worth at least $1 trillion.
War lords and the Taliban hold the areas around the lapis lazuli mines and desert roads that lead to them.
The government has lost control of the region and any economic benefit from gem mining.
President Ashraf Ghani has pledged to fight corruption but has also pleaded with other governments for help in winning back the mines.
Criminal gangs looting mines
“Governments need to be aware that these mines are funding terrorism and conflict outside of Afghanistan,” said Stephen carter of Global Witness.
“These are assets that should provide the funds to drive the Afghan economy towards prosperity but instead they are a threat to the security to the future of the country.
“These mines should be taken back under control of the rule of law and mining oversight needs strengthening to make sure any benefit they offer goes to the people of Afghanistan.”
Think-tank the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit claims up to 10,000 mines in the country are outside of government control and are looted by criminal gangs.